Zoo in My Brain

zoo in brain“Where did you get the name ‘Turtle’?” For many years, whenever people asked me that, I loved to say “I took it from a defenseless reptile…”   The unspoken end to that answer is: “… in total silly ignorance.” Vaguely, I hoped that taking the name of such a slow moving creature would help me to be a bit less impetuous in my approach to life. That never worked. But, I’ve sure learned a lot about turtles since I made that hasty decision to call myself Turtle, back when I was 29.

Turtles live a long time, and are amusing when they get rolled over on their backs, all four legs in the air. I can hope for the first characteristic, and vouch for the second. During my years as Turtle, I met many other humans who admire and appreciate the turtle/tortoise.   Turtle lovers enjoy the Native American story of Turtle Island, and the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. We cringe at the current jokes about Mitch McConnell, the turtle-faced senator; that comedy insults the mythical wisdom of our actual stinky reptile friends. Myth and reality. It’s a perpetual problem, balancing the art mind against the facts of life.

The animal I most identify with, mythically, isn’t the turtle, but the wolf. Sharing an affinity for the canine spirit is so common as to almost be part of the human condition. The wild wolf, archetype of the dog, lives free in nature. My rooms are adorned with wolf paintings and photos – wolves crossing rivers, in dens, in deep forests and frozen tundra. Wolf pup pictures make me mushy, way more than a photo of anyone’s infant grandchild. The wolf is probably my totem animal, if there is some “choose one” rule to totem spirituality. My affection for wolves is purely mystical; I know I can’t cuddle with the wolf, like I do with my dog. I love the wildness of the wolf as much, or maybe even more than, her essential dogness.

And then, there’s the elephant. Powerful dreams and images of elephants have gradually wandered into my psyche over the past two years. One of my earliest blogs is about a pachyderm dream. The Elephant Child has befriended me. My sister, an elephant lover, has collected elephant-inspired artwork, so perhaps it is from her that the elephant spirit escaped, crossing my subconscious borders, where, honestly, it’s wreaking some much needed havoc with the wolves and terrapins. There’s a zoo in my brain.

Manipulating the differences between images and reality, spirit fantasies and earthy truth, is the great challenge and exquisite joy of living my artistic life. In the typical sense, I’m not an “animal lover.” Nothing misty-eyed or environmentally passionate about me. When it comes to flesh and blood creatures, including humans, I’m most interested in the stories. Pain and pleasure feed stories, at the expense of flesh. Meanwhile, my spirit sings, in a voice inspired from animal shadows. Turtle, Wolf, and Elephant inhabit me, all completely welcome.

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